Enlightenment vs. Mysticism

(1) What is called ‘mysticism’ in the western culture is not the same kind of experience that the different Indian traditions talk about. (2) I do think, as a corollary, that to describe the Indian ‘enlightenment’ (let me use this word temporarily, the scare quotes indicate my reservations) as ‘mysticism’ is not to understand either. (3) There are different levels in and different ways to achieve ‘enlightenment’. (4) It is extremely important and significant that finitely different means to achieve this state have been worked out by each of these ways. I want to go further in exploring the significance of these points and in exploring this state of ‘enlightenment’ that the Indian traditions talk about.

(A) Let me use the word ‘spirituality’ as a general term so that I can speak of Christian (or Jewish or Islamic) spirituality and the Indian one. This allows an indiscriminate lumping of both ‘Buddhism’ and Meister Eckhart together (for the moment) without, as yet, distinguishing them. It might be useful to have such a general term in order to undertake a distinction at a subsequent stage.

1. Suppose that I say the following: Christian (Judaic, Islamic) mysticism is human spirituality misguided by Christian (Judaic, Islamic) religion. Would this sentence make some ‘intuitive’ sense?

2. Or, if I say: What is wrong with Christian (Judaic, Islamic) mysticism? Nothing, except that it is Christian (Judaic, Islamic). Would this make sense to you? I need to emphasize that I am not denigrating these religions. I am speaking of it this way in order to draw attention to the following claim: in so far as each human being can be a spiritual being (i.e. has the ‘potential’ to become one), those in whom such a potential develops within the framework of a religion (like the three I talked about) can only become misguided, or deformed, warped or stunted. That is, the ‘incoherence’ of the western mystics has to do with the framework within which a particular kind of potential tries (and fails) to become an actuality. Put differently: Western mysticism is a stunted, deformed, warped human spirituality. This misguiding occurs because of religion (that Judaism, Christianity and Islam are).

(B) As compensation, these religions can cultivate (among their believers) something we do not have: religiosity or religious experience. To have such an experience requires having precisely the kind of framework that warps human spirituality and it can only be developed within such a framework. In fact, one could even allow a gradation here between the ‘deeply religious’ and those who have had the kind of experience I am talking about by reserving the term ‘religious spirituality’ for them. Then we get notions like Christian (Judaic, Islamic) spirituality. What kind of an experience could that be? Well, those that the hagiographies and biographies of ‘Saints’ (among others) describe: experiencing the love of God, i.e., in the imagery of Saint Augustine, experiencing the love of God for contemptible sinners like you.

(C) Of course, if we use ‘spirituality’ in this context with this meaning, we need to give up the general notion introduced in (A).

For more on Christian monks, check this.